1. Use the Internet or Yellow Pages to find your local dive shops, YMCA, and independent instructors (assuming that you want to get certified close to home rather than while on vacation).

2. Check out the certification agency web sites for the National Association of Diving Instructors (NAUI) and the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) to find contact info for courses in your area. These are the two biggest certification agencies, and their web sites provide plenty of information about various options for certification courses and where you can find courses that are close to you. Then comparison shop based on recommendations, price, and class size and length.

3. It's important to get recommendations for instructors from others because (1) you are paying for someone to teach you skills you may need in life or death situations and (2) you can't trust just any schmuck trying to make a buck. So get referrals from friends and co-workers for certified dive masters.

4. When you contact the instructors, find out what agency they are certified by. Ask them about their experience, philosophies, and teaching styles. For example, are they willing to give special attention to someone having trouble? Are they able to translate technical knowledge into memorable lay terms? Do they challenge students to master skills rather than just pass everyone?

5. Prices for certification courses often range from $100 to $350 and more. There is such a broad range because different courses include different things. Ask about: text books, dive tables, log books, equipment (people usually provide their own mask, snorkel, fins and booties - but rental fees for other equipment like B.C.'s, regulators, and tanks are usually included), boat fees, open water dives, and the Certification card (including picture).

6. Ask about the size and length of the classes. If you can't afford private or semi-private lessons, ask the maximum size of a typical class. Remember, smaller classes mean more time spent with individual students, which leads to safer diving.

7. The instructor-student ratio should ideally be no more than 1:4.

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